Never Thirst Again

When I make my way into the kitchen, every morning, to start the day one of the first things I do is to go to the refrigerator. It is there I begin my quest to find the energy to make it through the day by grabbing a nice, cold, refreshing Diet Coke. While some may need the warmth of a cup of coffee to get through the morning, I need the sweet and calorie free taste of a Diet Coke to get things going. It is “Just for the taste of it,” right?”

To be honest, it’s not just in the mornings when I grab a Diet Coke. It seems like I always have a Diet Coke by my side. Come to the office, see me on Sunday mornings before worship, or see me moments before a meeting and chances are I am sipping on a Diet Coke or Diet Dr Pepper. In my mind, I need the caffeine from Diet Coke to get through the day, which ultimately leads me to having more soft drinks than a person should consume in one 24-hour period.

If we were honest with ourselves we all have things that we turn to in order to provide energy or momentum through the day. It could be a morning cup of coffee. It might be a favorite snack in the middle of the day. It might even be a favorite song or album that we listen to through the day. All these things, and many others, we turn to in order to “get us through the day.” Continue reading

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Living With a Promise

This morning, I must admit something to you all. As I looked back over the themes of the sermons from the last few weeks, I admit that what we have talked about in this series has been very challenging.

I know that it has been challenging for me and I am sure it has also been challenging for each of you. They have been challenging in that each of these sermons have asked us, in a way, to look at where we are, where we are going, and what Christ desires of us today and tomorrow.

Perhaps it is not ideal to preach a series of challenging sermons as the boxes are mounting at the house. It would easy to blame the lectionary for its selection of Easter season passages for this year, but that would not be fair to anyone. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of fluff. In my journalism days, I cringed at assignments that seemed to be space fillers, such as covering a local fair, before moving on to something else. I believe the Good News of Jesus Christ desires us all to be challenged to grow daily in our faith and what it means to be the church today. Continue reading

Living in Authentic Communities

Read Christian websites, scan the title of books at a bookstore, or hear how leaders in the church talk and you will notice a common theme. That theme is that Christianity in Western civilization, especially in the United States, is facing a crisis. It revolves around a generational gap that challenges the health and vitality of churches across all denominations.

This generational gap can be seen in weekly church attendance, membership rolls, and the influence the church has in the lives of young adults. The church struggles to reach people under the age of 40. These are people who identify themselves as being members of Generation X, like myself, or the Millennial Generation. Our reach among these groups of people is considerably less when compared with other generations.

I’ve often wondered why this is, not just as someone who is a young pastor but as a Christian who is a young adult. Why do we struggle to reach people from my generation and younger? I am not thinking about Christians who simply go to other churches. I am specifically thinking about people who do not have a relationship with Jesus or the church. Why do we struggle to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with young adults? Continue reading

We Are Easter People: Living Holy Lives

One of my favorite Scripture passages can be found in Luke 18:9-14.

There we see the story of  two people who went to the Temple to pray. One of the people praying was a Pharisee while the other was a tax collector. What I like about this passage is that it is one of those stories that reflects on who we often are and who we want to be.

Jesus recounts the Pharisee’s prayer first. He looks around and prays that he is glad he is not like any of the other people who were around. The tax collector then prays. He prays for God to simply forgive him. Jesus doesn’t offer commentary on the two prayers, but allows the contrast to speak for itself.

I mention this story, because I believe it highlights how we often relate to our new life in Christ and the Good News of the resurrection. We know God has given us a new life through faith in Christ, but sometimes we respond to this new life by looking out into the world and being thankful we are not like some of the others. Thankful that we have it all together. Thankful that we aren’t like those who struggle. Much like the Pharisee, it is an attitude where we consider ourselves as “holier” than others because of this new life. An attitude often seen by the people we seek to love as judgmental, condescending, or dismissive. Continue reading

The Humble Life

We live in a world of mixed messages and competing ideas.

Every day we are bombarded with messages, images, advertisements, stories, pictures, quotes, passages, and, yes, even sermons that attempt to influence our lives and how we interact with others. Part of life today is about trying to understand these messages and what they are saying to us.

Sometimes we do not know how to evaluate these messages. It is challenging to try and understand what the world is telling us. My Sunday School class, which starts next week, will help us in this task. No, I’m not beneath making a plug for something in the sermon.

To be sure, culture speaks to us daily. As followers of Christ, we must wrestle with our faith and what it affirms or challenges about the world around us. One of the places where culture speaks to us has influenced all of us in one way or another – how we view the self. Perhaps the most overwhelming message of our culture today is that the individual person is at the center of everything.

We are the center of our lives. The individual self is the most important. This is the message we hear from our culture, and we hear it over and over again. Social media sites encourage us to promote the best of ourselves. Advertisers spend millions trying to convince us that life is all about trying to make us feel better, which, of course, happens when we purchase their product. Modern day writers and, yes, even theologians often tell us that happiness is found when the self is cared for above all else.

When we put all of this together, it is not difficult to see that there is an overarching theme to these messages. We are the most important player in the game of life. It is all about us. Life is about me. Life is about what I want, what I get out of it, and what I need to do to achieve success. This overarching message is so engrained in us that we have allowed our culture to tell us that it is OK to ignore another person, so long as we get what we want out of life.

The self-focused life is at the center of how our culture informs our days. But, is it at the center of how Jesus desires for us, as his followers, to live out our lives in response to our faith in the Lord?

This question speaks to us as we study today’s passage from Luke 14:7-11. Jesus is at a dinner party with a group of Pharisees. They were watching Jesus closely to see how he would interact with them. Would he be on his best behavior or would he continue teaching in ways that challenged much of what they and the culture of the time thought to be true? So far, the dinner had not gone as the Pharisees had planned. It was held on the Sabbath, and Jesus had already violated one rule by healing someone who was sick. Imagine a dinner party filled with lots of tension and you have the scene that was already apparent when we come upon these verses.
It is a tension that is not going to ease anytime soon. This is because Jesus witnessed a very normal occurrence that inspired a deep moment of teaching. In those days, you would sit around a table and recline on sofas that were U-shaped. These sofas circled the table. The guests, upon their arrival, would fight for the best seat. That seat was at the center of the U, because this seat meant that you were the most important person at the party. Everyone wanted this honor.

Jesus notices this and says kingdom living is not about fighting for our place. Kingdom living is not about trying to secure something out of this life. Kingdom living, Jesus says in this parable, is about something else. Something deeper and truer to the life of God and what God has for us. Kingdom living is about living lives of humility. If we truly want to follow in the footsteps of Christ, then we will be people who sincerely and daily practice humility.

What does Jesus mean by humility? Jesus means for us to take on a posture of self-sacrifice. Humility means to let go of having our focus strictly upon ourselves and turning our attention towards others. It is not, however, about saying that we are not worthy or good enough. Instead, humility is about living in recognition that someone or something may be more important than us. The best picture of humility comes to us in Philippians 2, where Paul echoes an early Church hymn that speaks of Christ humbling himself to take on the form of a human as Jesus. It is the picture of letting go of the focus on self in order to focus on others.

Jesus says those who practice humility will be blessed. It is the opposite of what many in the party experienced. As they fought for the best seat, often they experience shame and embarrassment when the host comes and tells them someone more important has arrived. Jesus says those who practice humility daily would not experience this. They would receive the reward and blessings from God’s kingdom. Humility is a characteristic that Christ desires of all of his followers.

Humility, letting go of complete focus of the self, is a radical concept. It was a radical notion then, just as it is today. In Jesus’ time, humility was not a valued characteristic. We see this in how they fought over the best seat. To be a person of humility was to be considered weak. It was an uncomfortable practice.

To be honest, it is something we are uncomfortable with today. Humility for us, sometimes, is more of a tool that we use to get what we really want from someone. For instance, we will say that we’re not the right person for a task when deep down we know that we’re the best person for the job. We may even act humble only so that someone will feel obligated to brag about how great we know that we truly are. So often, humility is used to turn the attention back on us.

Humility is not something we might practice on a regular basis, but it is something that Jesus calls us to in our lives. So how do we begin? If we truly want to practice humility, then we must look upon Christ as our example. Jesus’ earthly ministry was about humility. Nothing Jesus did was intended to put the focus upon himself. The miracles, teachings, and acts of love were all intended to give glory and focus to the Father. Jesus continually surrendered himself so that the Father would be made known through him and so that others could experience the grace of God.

Jesus was not about himself. Indeed, Christ, by his very nature, is a servant. Jesus could have easily made everything he did in this world about himself. Instead, he continually chose the posture of a servant who went to his knees and washed the feet of others. Jesus routinely took upon himself the tasks that seemed “beneath him” in order to give attention and focus to the Father.

If we want to be humble, if we truly want to live lives of humility, then we must be willing to practice the life of Christ in our daily lives. We must be people of humble service who daily choose to walk and live as Jesus would live. Servanthood, giving of ourselves in order to focus of others, is at the heart of what it means to be humble and to live lives of humility. It is about giving of ourselves so that others may experience God’s grace.

Humility also mean that life is not about us. We are not the center of attention. We are not the stars in the game of life. Christ is the star and our focus. The way to living lives of humility is by continually keeping Jesus at the very center of who we are. If Christ is at our center, then nothing else will keep us from our focus. We will not be about serving our own selves, but about serving Christ and the other, both of whom we so often ignore.

Humility is difficult, because we just cannot let go of being at the center of it all. We want all the attention and glory. Jesus is the one who deserved all glory, yet he never sought the attention for himself. He sought it for the Father so that we may all have a relationship with him through faith in Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit.

A humble life will produce the blessings of God. It will lead us closer to what God desires for us and bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Through grace and by humble living, we experience more of what God desires for us. This is what I want for you, for your lives, for myself, and for our church.

Living a life of humility is to take on the deeper life of Christ by allowing the Lord to be at the center of who we are. That is humility. To recognize that this life is not about us, but about Christ working in us, is a very important declaration of faith. What if we all made this declaration of faith today to live lives of humility, to live as though Christ is at our center and not ourselves? What would be different about how we engaged the world? What would be different about us? What would be different about us here at Trinity? What if we were willing to truly live as if Christ was at the center of everything we are, everything we do, and everything we seek to be?